Voting pro-social in the Ontario election

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I'm talking to you, fellow lovers, sharers and carers: where are we going with this Ontario election?

You know who you are, but for accuracy's sake, here's a checklist. Whether you're an NDPer, a Liberal, a Green or somewhere in between, you understand these are dangerous times. 

First off, it isn't news to you that violence and repression are raging around the globe. You get that part of the reason is because inequality and corporate empowerment, both here and globally, are crazily off-kilter. Same for the fact that humans have destabilized the earth's climate and that life-forms on the planet are pretty much in a death spiral.

You are experiencing a visceral anxiety about PC leader Tim Hudak taking the June 12 vote. "How did the NDP put us in this position?" we ask as we scratch our heads over the polls.

Plus, the ice storm was scary, right? We're unsettled by the experience we shared of feeling the power of unbalanced nature. That was surely a wake-up call -- one loud message from the weather: we are all in this together.

Okay. So, first step, let's look around and be grateful that there are actually so many of us who are not in denial about the simple facts of life as they are right now. That's the good news.

There are other empowering positives. For example, in this provincial election we have not one, but two party leaders who started out as smart, accomplished activists with an astute sense for good public policy and then got enough rank-and-file membership support to go on to lead their parties. This is unusual in the political world we live in.

Kathleen Wynne has a progressive budget, pension and transit plans that affirm the courage of her convictions. The lesser-known Mike Schreiner of the Green party has offered his substantial gifts to give voice to our basic need for uncontaminated watersheds and farmland. He might actually win his own Guelph riding, and then Ontario would have an Elizabeth May all our own, which would be a great addition to the provincial political culture.

I'd like to emphasize to staunch NDPers who've never seen a Liberal or Green candidate (or supporter) they like that many of the core party members who installed Wynne and Schreiner as leaders have similar values and desires to those of the wonderfully committed people who've made family and community of their beloved NDP. 

The bad news is that NDP leader Andrea Horwath's leadership approach has upped the political danger quotient in the province considerably. Many within the party, both publicly and privately, find it hard to square Horwath's platform with our own values. We feel betrayed by her willingness, in the hope of winning another few seats, to expose us to the possibility of another Harris-like government.

History seems to be in an endless loop here. The parties who share a pro-social majority end up slicing and dicing each other to pieces, while the anti-social leader gets control of the community war chest to unleash more impoverishment, misery and climate chaos. (Hello, Stephen Harper.)

What a messed-up story.

How does that keep on happening? 

Turns out there are plenty of other humans in our common social-scape (but a minority) who don't see the "together we are the weather" aspect of what's going on at all. 

For lots of their own reasons, they think it's all about them against the world. They hate the government and the rules, and they are angry. We have Ford Nation to thank for helping us figure that out. The perfect storm that brought Ford to power forced us to ask ourselves, "How can so many people support a politician who transgresses the basic idea of truth?"

We have the clear answer. A significant body of humans feel that anti-social is the better way. And the populism Horwath is peddling is clearly designed to capture a share of that rebellious base.

Meanwhile, we sharers and carers are scattered and tattered, flying old flags flapping in the wind. Well, my seeker friends, I'm proposing that we retire the words "left" and "right" as they're applied to politics, right here and now. They're obscuring the landscape so we can't see the forest for the trees.

The political designation "left" has been losing meaning for a long time. By forcing this election, Horwath dealt the term a death blow, compounded by a platform that, when it differs from Wynne's, is often described as being to the right of it. 

But here's the soul problem that many NDPers are dealing with. If the term "left" has lost its meaning, then who the hell are we?

I think we can agree that no "ism" can answer that question any more. Ideology just hasn't paid off. In fact, it has been a killing field.

We need a larger identity that embraces the public good. And it has to be self-correcting and self-aware -- not self-righteous -- including a verifiable fact-based approach to the public good.

The shorthand I find useful is "pro-social." Here's one definition: "Pro-social behaviour is characterized by a concern about the rights, feelings and welfare of other people. Behaviours that can be described as pro-social include feeling empathy and behaving in ways to help or benefit other people."

Now that we've lived through a Rob Ford Toronto, we know behaviour that's consistent with our values absolutely needs a place in our political philosophy. 

Pro-social is also the most scientific approach to doing good for ourselves. Quantum physics has established with absolute certainty that we are all connected.

There's nothing especially novel in this connected fact of life. The great teacher and anti-war activist Thich Nhat Hanh calls this "inter-being." The late, great (honorary) Canadian Nelson Mandela (and all of Africa) call it "ubuntu" -- "I am because we are." If you respectfully ask our own First Nations elders, they have helpful and interesting views to share on this subject as well.

So we start by acknowledging that we're all in relationship. Then we go to work on figuring out the facilitation skill-sets needed to resolve the natural differences that arise from our endlessly diverse experiences and points of view. Instead of a constant cycle of disempowerment, let's start working on the tools we need to negotiate and create efficient and effective inclusive win-win solutions to our huge and many problems.

If we leave behind the nasty, self-righteous, adversarial, win-lose, ideological lens of left and right, we can wake up to the fact that most of us in the NDP and the Liberal party and the Greens are in the sharing and caring camp. And we are a powerful sector of the electorate. 

So how do we get to health and happiness? Do we align politically and tackle our problems from a communal, pro-social perspective? Or do we bandage up the wounds we're all dealing with by grabbing whatever we can for ourselves -- alone, against the world that's trying to get its dirty hands on our money? 

If we could just get our act together, we could make a lot of good things happen for ourselves and each other, including electing the first openly lesbian premier in the history of Canada. Right now we can't even agree that such an obvious milestone for basic human rights is a good thing.

Where does that leave the NDP, that loving jewel of a party that's been a beacon of generosity for generations?

First, the leadership needs an electoral kick in the ass to make clear that the anti-tax neo-con playbook is not our way back to the future. Change must be called for in a loud and compelling way at the ballot box. Many esteemed party activists have said as much. 

Then we get to work on honouring the party's history by creating and fulfilling a vision that goes one step further into ubuntu by transforming the NDP into Canada's real home of peace and reconciliation. After the election will be a perfect time to dive right in. In this dream, the future NDP would play the role in our political system of something akin to the brilliant relationship counsellor who somehow gets all the angry parties around the table to journey together even further into health and well-being than any of them ever thought possible.

But what about right now, with the election in our hands?

Here is the obvious pro-social answer: number one, get out and vote. 

So many of us in the pro-social world don't do that because we're disaffected by the whole process. That's an effect of the anti-social meanness infecting public debate. It could be deadly, however, for the province, the people and the planet if we leave political decisions in the hands of Hudak Nation. 

Who we actually vote for is more complicated. The best pro-social outcome we can achieve on June 12 is a  stable Liberal government led by the dyed-in-the-wool pro-social Wynne. That's not because she or the Liberals are ideal or even the very best. It's because public policy and the public service need a four-year mandate to create anything vaguely useful. 

A coalition would be best, but sadly, Horwath's NDP has proven itself unable to partner effectively for the public good. Hopefully the NDP, with our help, will learns some new relationship tricks and will be able to form a coalition. 

But in our electoral system, we need to be strategic in the way we try for a Liberal or coalition government. Vote-splitting is an issue that we need to consider depending on what's going on in our ridings and, frankly, how the political winds are blowing come election day. But hey, attitude is everything. Instead of being daunted, let's just look at it as "This is what makes democracy so interesting." 

At we have created a Toronto riding-by-riding voting guide with the easily accessible background you need to figure out how to avoid vote-splitting and elect the best pro-social candidate possible. We need to get creative, tune in to each other and do the best we can.

This column was first published in Now Magazine.

Photo: Sharon Drummond/flickr

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